Thursday Night Pick; Buccaneers vs. Vikings

It’s been a frustrating 1st half of the season for Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers. Can Freeman and Tampa Bay’s continually improving aerial attack carry the Bucs into playoff contention? Not with that defense. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Buccaneers at Vikings
The Buccaneers aren’t as awful as their record suggests. Tampa Bay collapsed in the 2nd half against the Giants in Week 2, suffered one of the worst offensive outings I’ve ever seen in Week 3 against the Cowboys, rallied to take a lead in the final 90 seconds against the Redskins only to blow it, and had two game-tying touchdowns nullified by poor receiver footwork in the final 15 seconds against the Saints. Losses are still losses and while I’m not trying to argue the Buccaneers are any good, I don’t think they’re all that bad, either. The Vikings will certainly be an interesting matchup.

Minnesota and Adrian Peterson boast the NFL’s 7th ranked rushing attack. Though Christian Ponder has played well in his 2nd season, the Vikings still go as the running game goes. The Vikings are the 27th ranked passing offense. Fittingly, the Buccaneers excel at stopping the run (3rd) and have no clue how to stop the pass (31st). So, who bends and who breaks? The answer: The Buccaneers run defense. Though Tampa’s run defense has technically earned their top five rank against the run, it does come as a result of offenses choosing to ignore the run for a much more productive passing attack that is often met with little or no resistance.  Tony Romo threw for 283 yards. Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III surpassed 300. Drew Brees topped 375 and Eli Manning aired it out for 510 yards. Only Brady Quinn couldn’t top 200 yards against this defense.

When a defense’s rank against the run and pass contrast greatly (like, 3 and 27), it’s usually because offenses opt to exploit the weakness, thus making the strength look even stronger. For example, if I’m a starting pitcher and I give up 20 hits per outing but never walk anyone; my balls and strikes ratio is going to be impressive, but that doesn’t mean I’m a good pitcher. The Buccaneers aren’t a good defense.

Furthermore, Minnesota is undefeated at home and home teams are 5-1 on Thursday night. Although I don’t think the Vikings are all that good, they’re a superior team to the Buccaneers.

I know NFL teams approach their schedule one week at a time, but the Vikings will soon run into a buzz saw. As I’ve previously stated, Minnesota, even at 6-2 after tonight, won’t be in the postseason. I see five guaranteed losses on their remaining schedule, and they could easily lose one or two more. Enjoy the “W’s” while you can. VIKINGS If I were Charles Barkley; Buccaneers +6.5

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